A feeling is an experience of emotion. While the term “feeling” can be used to describe purely physical sensations, such as touch or pain, in the context of this article we are going to talk about feelings as psychological phenomenon, such as being head over heels in love or simply feeling like a cool dude.
Feelings are important because they are largely responsible for our entire experience of life. It’s our feelings that determine whether we are happy or sad, content or frustrated. There is no shortage of examples of people who seem to have it all, yet feel unhappy, unfulfilled and depressed. On the other hand, there are those who defy all odds and lead happy and fulfilling lives despite obvious disadvantages, such as extreme poverty or physical disabilities.
It is our feelings that motivate us to do things:
- working out to feel attractive,
- studying to feel smart and/or accepted,
- working extra hard to compensate for our real or imagined flaws in order to feel like a worthy romantic partner.
Some people donate money not because of their concern for the less fortunate but to feel better about themselves.
Many of us buy products not because we really need them but because they make us feel better about ourselves, or so we hope. Feeling beautiful, stylish, rich, luxurious, cool are just a few examples.
Despite intellectually understanding that things are squeaky clean, people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) keep washing because things don’t feel clean for some reason.
Counseling and psychotherapy are largely about understanding of the client’s feelings and then being able to work from there, usually by figuring out the way to change these feelings.
If we can figure out how to change negative feelings and replace them with positive ones, we can change our experience of life, and it doesn’t have to involve any other radical changes. Change your feelings, change your life!
Our feelings about the world are heavily influenced by our past experiences. In this sense, our feelings are our perception of things or events. Middle aged, young and old, we all had different experiences in life; we may come from different cultures; some of us possess knowledge and experience others don’t have — it’s only natural that we have different reactions to same events. Each of us looks through the filter of their own perception and feels accordingly.
Feelings vs. Emotions
There are several websites that suggest that feelings and emotions are different, or no, VERY different things and that knowing this difference is crucial for your success and self-improvement. While some believe that emotions precede feelings, others believe the opposite. Some say feelings are physical and emotions are mental, others are confident it’s the other way around.
Forget it. There is no consensus on difference between feelings and emotions, and if there is one, it’s still okay to use the two terms interchangeably because that’s what most people do anyway. According to APA Dictionary of Psychology, feeling is a conscious subjective experience of emotion, and we are going to stick to that. In the context of this article, feelings and emotions are definitely the same thing.
If you got an assignment in school to find the difference between feelings and emotions, then this article probably isn’t what you need. If, on the other hand, you are wondering about human feelings (and emotions) and how it all works, then read on!
The Relationship Between Thoughts and Feelings
If you ever read at least one self-improvement book in your life, it probably told you that to improve your life and reach your goals, you need to change the way you think. Self-help junkies know that, basically, all self-help books teach this one concept, which makes these books boring after a while. However, in many ways this advice holds true. Our thoughts have a profound impact on our feelings; our feelings affect the way we behave; and our behavior is responsible for our results.
Both our thoughts and feelings are important parts of our experience of life. For example, if you feel sad, both thoughts and feelings are parts of the experience of being sad. The good news is that both thoughts and feelings can be challenged for their accuracy and, if they are found to be wrong, intentionally replaced with something more helpful.
Feelings, Hormones and Brain Chemicals
Things would be so simple if it was just a matter of thinking right or if we could force ourselves to think the way we need to at all times. Sometimes, we simply can’t. In fact, that happens very often. This is the reason why despite knowing all the secrets, you are still struggling instead of living the life of your dreams. Our health, our hormones and our brain chemicals in particular, have a huge impact on how we feel! Here are some of them:
- oxytocin (the love hormone!)
The concept of feelings and emotions is fascinating by itself, but one of the most interesting parts of it is the phenomenon of gut feeling. Gut feeling is unconscious, irrational and intuitive. It can be both positive or negative: You might feel you can trust someone without actually knowing them, or you might feel in danger when, rationally speaking, there is no reasons to be afraid. The weirdest part is that sometimes our gut feeling is actually right.
Many attempts have been made to explain intuition or gut feeling. Some suggest it can be explained by our previous experiences: The more similar experiences you had in a particular area, the more reliable your gut feeling or intuition regarding that area. It is like all of a sudden all your knowledge and experience manifests without any effort from your side. You feel like you know things but you yourself can’t explain how you know it. This, of course, makes perfect sense. Having said that, you can probably think of a time when your correct intuition can’t be explained by having previous experiences.
The Six Basic Emotions
Paul Ekman, an American psychologist, is known for his work on emotions. He concluded that there are six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. He found that even members of isolated tribes had these emotions, which means it’s not something we learn from media, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise.
Another study found that when subjects contorted their facial muscles into facial expressions that matched the basic emotions (e.g. happiness or disgust), they reported congruent feelings. This brings us to a conclusion that smiling is not just incredibly attractive, it can also make you happier!